Ten years ago, Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker Main event and unquestionably altered the path my life would take (Check out this awesome oral history of the event done recently by Grantland). I had already begun playing the game with friends after being introduced to it by my friend Lax but Moneymaker’s win and the television coverage of the event spurred my full on obsession with the game. After spending weekend after weekend locked inside the Tropicana poker room in Atlantic City playing 60+ hour sessions of 1/2 NL during my last two years of college I felt like I had gotten pretty good at the game and had some decent results to back it up. One of these weekends, pretty close to the time I was set to graduate from Rutgers, I was standing outside the poker room talking with one of the dealers, Nate, who I had become friends with. I asked him, “Do you think I could do this for a living?” He said “Sure, why not?” And that was that. On May 28th, 2005, exactly 8 years ago today, I packed up all of my belongings (sent most of them home to mom’s house), and set sail for Atlantic City with my $3,000 bankroll ready to take over the world.
It’s crazy to think that I have been doing this for a living for 8 years now. Sometimes it feels like it’s been longer than but other times I think about a hand I played in one of my first few sessions and I remember all of the details so clearly that it doesn’t seem like that long ago at all. I detailed a lot of the turbulent journey through the first few years in my poker story.
Jody and I fly to Vegas tomorrow morning for my 8th WSOP. On this WSOP eve, I figured it would be interesting to write about some of the things I’ve learned about poker and what I’ve learned about myself because of poker over the last 8 years along with some random thoughts on the game. Hopefully this helps to pump everyone up for the series!
On ego and confidence
One of the interesting things about poker is you need to be full of confidence, you need to think that you are better than everyone else at the table and exude that confidence while at the same time not letting your ego get involved in your decisions. Just because you might think you are better than everyone else doesn’t mean you have to prove that to the other good players at the table by going after them. I used to care a lot about what people thought of my game. Once I stopped caring about what other people thought and focused instead on my own confidence level I noticed a tremendous positive change in my mindset. The cool thing about poker is that even the best players in the world still have things to learn and to improve upon. The journey to mastery is never ending and I don’t allow my ego to get in the way of it. I try to learn and improve with every decision I make.
On the “due” theory
It’s been a trendy thing lately for poker players to say that they are due. Due to win a big tournament or have a big cash game heater. Poker owes you nothing. Positive results come from good decisions. In poker however, good decisions don’t always equal positive results in the short term. The challenge is to continue to make these good decisions and control the things that you can control without worrying about the results.
Poker has taught me to be accountable for my own actions and decisions. At the end of the day, there is only one person to blame if I haven’t made the best decisions that day: me. It’s easy to lie to yourself in poker; to place the blame on a run of bad cards or the bad beats. In the end, it all comes back to the decisions you make. I began realizing this when I found out Jody was pregnant with Ava in January of 2007. I made a vow to myself to do everything I possibly could to make sure that I was putting myself in the best position to win. It’s always a work in progress and there is no end. I want to work harder than everyone else I play against. I want to make better decisions than everyone else. I could care less about bad beats and coolers and things of that nature. I know that at the end of each hand I play, I need to look back and make an honest evaluation and determine if I made the best decisions. I have to hold myself accountable if I want to improve every day.
On mental strength
I have come a long way in this category. Although poker is an incredibly fun way to make a living, it can also be very frustrating and stressful. The mental and emotional swings can be unbearable at times. I was fortunate to come across the work of Tommy Angelo specifically the “Eightfold path to Poker enlightenment”. It also helps to have 8 years worth of experiences that I’ve learned from. It’s so important not to get too low when things are going bad or get too high when things are going well. I believe the mental strength that I’ve gained from poker has helped me in many other areas of my life.
I can’t even begin to explain how important the support from my family and friends has been. Having my wife there to support every decision I make and to have full confidence in my abilities is so meaningful. Her job is far more stressful and frustrating than mine for sure. My parents were supportive from the get go and always encouraged me to follow my dreams. It also helps to have a lot of poker friends who go through all the same things as you and can relate to your experiences. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to make some great life long friends from this game. I want to do well and be successful just as much for all of these people who have supported me as I do for myself.
On doing it my way
It took me a long time to figure out that I needed to play strategically in a manner that I was most comfortable with and not necessarily how others thought was the right way to play. Maybe it’s because I started with a live poker background and I’ve played so many hours of live poker but I’ve always felt that it was incredibly difficult to give a precise answer to a poker question unless I was at the table and could watch the hand take place. I’ve always tried to use my instincts and go with my gut but it wasn’t until I let go of the need to do what others said that I had the confidence to follow my instincts every single time. I try my best to view every decision I make in each hand as a life or death decision. When I don’t do this, I can tell that I’m not in the right mindset to be playing. One of the tough things about poker for me is that there is no on/off switch. No matter what I’m doing it is almost always on my mind. It honestly can be a bit draining at times. I’ve tried working with yoga and meditation a bit but the funny thing is when I’m in the Shavasana pose in yoga all I can do is picture myself winning a tournament or with a ton of chips in front of me in a big cash game. It’s a gift and a curse, I guess.
At the end of the day, I know that I have to look in the mirror and ask myself if I’ve done everything possible that day to achieve my goals. I recognize that no matter what the answer is, there is always room for improvement and I won’t ever stop striving to be the best. I’m so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to play this game every day. I can’t wait for tomorrow.
Here is my schedule for the series for the first week: